The use of handkerchief as we know it, or to blow your nose for colds or sudden sneezing, It is surprisingly recent.
It dates back in fact, only to the last century, when the hygienic standards became more severe and diffuse.
Before then the handkerchief, a piece of more or less square-shaped cloth, It had primarily an ornamental purpose.
It already existed in Greece and the Roma and he was known by the name of mappula.
It was actually a napkin that you carried with you when you went to a banquet, which he was useful to take home the leftovers of the meal.
Nell’Ancient Rome the mappula, as known, it was also thrown into the arena by the consul at the beginning of the gladiator games.
Basically nothing changed in Middle Ages, centuries in which the handkerchief remained mostly a simple, but of little use, tinsel.
The habit of encrypt the handkerchief with the initials of his name to personalize it was born in the 1600s.
In the 1700s instead, it almost turned into a’weapon seduction.
Coming out of muffs as if by magic, pockets and generous necklines where usually was inserted, preferably packaged in a precious and embroidered cloth, if necessary, it could be used to wipe the tears from the face of a beautiful and sad lady.
And so even in the nineteenth century, when the usual method to wipe the nose was still, as before, to sink it in the sleeve or the hem of the dress she was wearing (Photo gives: http://blog.libero.it/abbandonaretara/10851178.html).